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Records show concerns about well, as BP says leak could last months

A House panel investigating the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico released new internal documents from BP on Sunday that suggest company engineers had concerns about the safety of the well as early as last year.

The chairmen of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak, wrote in a memo accompanying the records that, while many of the documents are technical accounts of the well design and blowout preventer, others “raise questions, but their connection to the blowout, if any, require additional investigation.”

The release of the documents came as BP officials and the Obama administration acknowledged for the first time that the blown-out well could continue spewing oil into the Gulf until August.

In emails released by the committee, BP engineers expressed concern to federal regulators in March about their ability to control the well. They later asked for an extension from the Minerals Management Service, the agency that regulates offshore drilling, of a federally mandated test of the blowout preventer, a fail-safe device designed to prevent spills. At first, federal officials declined.

“Sorry, we cannot grant a departure on the BOP test further than when you get the well under control,” Frank Patton, an MMS official wrote to BP engineers at the time.

Company officials pressed again for an extension of the test, expressing reservations about conducting the test without full control of the well. “We have major concerns about coming out without getting at least one cement plug set to secure the well,” they wrote.

About seven hours later, a second MMS official relented. “After further consideration, an extension is approved to delay the BOP test until the lower cement plug is set,” the official, David Trocquet, wrote to BP engineers.

The failure of the blowout preventer has been identified as a key component of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and subsequent leak. A federal panel said on Thursday that the well is now gushing anywhere from 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day into the fragile waters along the Louisiana coastline. BP’s latest attempt to contain the leak, the so-called “top kill” procedure, has proved unsuccessful.

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